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Brian Earp on Anti-Love Drugs

In the final Uehiro Seminar of 2012, Brian Earp provides an absorbing analysis of the science and ethics of anti-love biotechnology. You can listen to the seminar here.

While some personal distress as a result of love may be an important means of self-development, certain forms of love may be particularly perilous. Examples given by Earp include an older person’s sexual love for a child, incestuous love, and the love that prevents an abused spouse from leaving their partner. In these cases love can become like an ‘interpersonal heroin’ – an individual may recognise the harm their love is causing them, but be unable to stop feeling it.

While the idea of a cure for love has ancient roots, advances in neuroscience mean chemical ‘anti-love’ drugs could soon be developed. Earp discusses three pathways in the brain that could be targeted by anti-love drugs – those that control lust, attraction and attachment. Some anti-lust drugs are already available in the form of androgen blockers and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors –both of which are known to dampen sex drive. While anti-attraction and anti-attachment drugs are more speculative, similar interventions have been developed in other species. Earp describes other scientific insights which suggest sophisticated anti-love drugs will one day be technologically feasible.

Is the development of anti-love drugs something we should be encouraging? Earp points to some possible dangers that could stem from anti-love drugs. These include paternalistic interventions from states who could force anti-love drugs on individuals to prevent forms of love they don’t approve of. In light of the danger of possible coercive uses of anti-love drugs, Earp suggests an ethical framework which stresses consent and autonomy. He argues that if the love experienced by someone is seriously harmful, if they consent to the treatment, if the treatment respects their deeper autonomy, and the treatment is necessary to rid them of the love, then the use of anti-love drugs will be permissible.

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